20 years of war

The United States is marking the end of the nearly twenty years of war in Afghanistan, part of the wider “War on Terror” which began after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Although there were those of us who opposed a military response at the time – I vividly recall our group standing near the perimeter of the traffic circle beside our church with signs against war and people driving by honking in agreement – the war began, followed later by the war in Iraq which took a lot of attention and resources away from Afghanistan, which is I think part of the reason the war there went on for twenty years.

I am saddened by so much loss of life, injury, and damage incurred, especially among civilians. I am grateful that many Afghans, especially ethnic minorities, women, and girls, were able to enjoy more freedom and access education, sports, and jobs due to the presence of the United States and allied forces. Unfortunately, many of those gains are being lost because the Afghan government was not strong enough to stand on its own. With the Taliban back in charge, many of the gains and protections for women and minorities have dissolved. I must admit to being perplexed with people who thought that the final withdrawal from Kabul was like the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. I am old enough to remember that, when the military evacuated from Saigon, they did not take Vietnamese civilian partners, translators, and related personnel and their families with them. They did not even try to evacuate the children of US service members who faced hardship because there were mixed race. Over a period of years, some of these former South Vietnamese allies were able to flee the country and re-settle in the United States but it was not because they were evacuated by the US. They made their own way to refugee camps or set out to escape by boat.

In contrast, the United States was able to evacuate over 65,000 Afghan civilians with thousands more evacuated by other countries. While this is by no means all the people who were in need of evacuation, it is much better than the situation in Vietnam in 1975. The US State Department is continuing to work at getting more people out of Afghanistan, as others work on getting people processed and re-settled in the US and other countries.

We will never know what might have happened if the United States had tried to deal with the aftermath of 9/11 through diplomatic rather than military means. Perhaps so much of the weight of response would not have fallen on Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding, and more on Saudi Arabia, whence fifteen of the nineteen hijackers came. None of the hijackers were Afghanis.

I don’t know what will become of Afghanistan. It has been a place of turmoil for centuries. I do hope that the money that has been previously used to make war will be re-allocated to peaceful purposes to help people and the planet survive and thrive.

We can hope.

Follow-up: Feminist Afghan Artist Forced into Hiding

Thanks for sharing this. Such courage should be applauded, not derided.

idealisticrebel

This entire story has really caught the imagination of women around the world.  The bravery of this talented, courageous, creative woman lit up hope in the hearts of many women and feminist men.  Now, she has had to go to ground to protect herself.  Even though there will be those who say “well, she shouldn’t have done it in the first place”, progress is made by those who extend themselves beyond the normal bounds of society to the betterment of all.

I will be keeping up with this story, as best I can, so we all know what happens to this wonderful young woman.

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After Protesting Sexual Violence, Afghan Artist Forced into Hiding

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Prisoners of War

I am happy to know that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who has been the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan for the past five years, is back in the hands of the United States armed forces. I’m glad that he will be returned to his relieved parents after he has recovered from his long imprisonment.

I am, however, dismayed by the people who are saying that he should not have been exchanged for five prisoners that the US had been holding in Guantanamo. Exchanging prisoners of war is a long-standing practice, especially near the end of the war, which is approaching quickly from the perspective of US involvement. The problem is that, due to the machinations of President George W. Bush’s administration, many people do not consider these five men as prisoners of war, instead categorizing them as”detainees” or “enemy combatants.” In this way, they have skirted international law about how prisoners of war are to be treated and blocked moves to release them or even bring them to trial. This shameful behavior has to stop. Prisoners of war have to be called prisoners of war and justly treated as such, in accord with international treaties to which the US is a signatory. Congress, having authorized the president to conduct the war, should not intervene as they have been doing in what is essentially a military matter to be handled by the chain of command up to the commander-in-chief.

The other issue that critics are lamenting is that the United States negotiated with terrorists. However, the exchange was negotiated through a third party, the government of Qatar. The US did not directly negotiate with the Taliban. The US did not release the prisoners to the Taliban. Again, we have a problem with words and with history. The war in Afghanistan was fought against the Taliban, which was the ruling party at the time, because they were sheltering Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was the terrorist organization against which the US-led coalition was fighting; the Taliban was the ruling party of the country in which many Al-Qaeda members were hiding. The Taliban who became US prisoners were fighting for the government of Afghanistan; while it fits the narrative of critics of the current administration to portray them as terrorists now, it doesn’t fit the fact that these five men were part of the ruling government of Afghanistan, which should make them prisoners of war. Although the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, it doesn’t change the fact that they once did.

I am sorry that some people are marring what should be a time of relief and joy for Bowe’s family, his hometown in Idaho, and the country. It’s time for all of us in the United States to pull together and help heal the wounds of war. We owe it to those who have been deployed so long and so many times to celebrate their service to our country and find peace back home.